Encouraging the extra-ordinary

Presented by: Nicole Koltick and Diana Nicholas

“In my understanding, to design is to intentionally apply to ordinary objects, phenomena and communication the essence of these innumerable ways of thinking and perceiving.”  K. Hara

As the first graduate level studio in our core curriculum, this studio introduces students to a variety of methods to approach and focus on the design of interior spatial volumes. One problem we have identified is that beginning students have preconceived ideas about interior space and spatial elements comprising such spaces.  Our goal in the studio is to introduce students to new ways of thinking about interior space and spatial elements which, while universal and quite ordinary, can be explored and developed in any number of ways. We deliberately avoid walls, floors and ceilings in initial projects introducing them only in the final project and then they are required to be conceived and developed as part of a cohesive spatial solution. The approach here is to encourage students to consider the three dimensional interior spatial volume from the outset rather than developing ideas in plan and elevation initially.
The strategy we have employed is intended to introduce students to a wider range of spatial possibilities through a carefully constructed set of projects and techniques. We have developed a progression of assignments which increase in spatial complexity and programmatic requirements. In this introductory studio there are three primary investigations in the course, Portal, Procession and Repository. Portal was an opportunity to explore spatial concepts, the nature of opening and preliminary ideas of the relationship of an interior space to its exterior. Procession introduces students to concepts of circulation and encourages a departure from conventional stair or ramping strategies to contemplate alternative approaches to the movement through space.  Repository requires students to synthesize prior techniques to develop an interior space for the display of a small group, or collection of curated objects. Students are asked to consider issues of entry, circulation, and display. Participants are introduced to an iterative design exploration procedure which emphasizes the use of drawings, physical and digital modelling and diagramming as complementary approaches to exploring potential design solutions. Students progress from a series of initial spatial exercises which are then extensively iterated, evaluated and redeveloped. The course encourages extensive self-reflection and critique of designs in progress. Running alongside a complementary seminar, which emphasizes systematic approaches to design, both courses gave students the opportunity to explore a design operation expressed through components as an approach to their ideas about the development of interior constructs. 

In the first two projects students develop a set of exploratory drawings which emphasize analysis of the spatial implications of their design in relation to light, shading, and relationships in plan, section, elevation and three dimensions. In the final project, students transition into a more regularized set of drawings in plan and section in addition to generating more realistic three dimensional renderings. In contrasting the more experimental conceptual drawing process with the conventional representation, the students were given an opportunity to explore how the processes lead to a new understanding of the interior. The emphasis on non-traditional drawings in the first projects yielded more integrated and innovative space planning concepts in the final project. The final outcome produced projects which embody a diverse variety of spatial solutions. The strategy here was to avoid convention in the form of doors, ordinary walls or typical display strategies. By employing a non-traditional approach and emphasizing a reassessment of ordinary elements, the goal was to allow students to clearly consider spatial volume, context and interiority.


  • Hara, Kenya. Designing Design. Zurich: Lars Mu¨ller, 2007, 19.

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